When conducting damp surveys, the pinless function (or search mode) is the method I always use first before moving on to the pinned function. The search mode is a fantastic method of rapidly assessing the relative moisture content of solid walls and floors.
The likes of the Protimeter Surveymaster allows you to use this function to investigate beneath the surface to a depth of up to 19mm without causing any damage. This mode is perfect for searching behind wall and floor coverings such as ceramic tiles, wall papers, laminate flooring, plasterboard, masonry and so on. What’s more, surface moisture (e.g. condensation) has little effect to the measurement taken giving the user some certainty that the readings are sub-surface readings.
That sounds great, so what’s the downside you may ask. Well using the likes of a Surveymaster or MMS2 on ceilings and floors can be very awkward and surveying a large area like a flat roof can be very time consuming using these devices. This is where the brand new Protimeter Reachmater Pro comes in. In this review I will be looking into all the features of the Reachmaster Pro to find out whether this device is the next must-have for those investigating damp.
The Protimeter Reachmaster Pro will come with the following:
- Reachmaster Pro
- Semi rigid carry case
- Spare abrasion plate
The list pricing will be £510, €610 and $669 (Excl vat).
Looking at the Reachmaster Pro you will see the familiar colours and textures that have defined the modern Proimeter line up. Protimeter have nailed the premium look and feel of this non-invasive moisture meter. This meter has three main components which are the telescopic handle, the display unit and the sensor unit.
The telescopic handle feels very robust. The grip is made from a grey rubbery non-slip material and it has grooves for the fingers to make it even steadier in the hand, at no point did I feel like this was going to slip out of my hand when using it. The telescopic pole has a yellow rocker switch which allows it to extend. It has six 80mm increments allowing for a full extended range of over 1m. This extendable meter will make hard to reach areas a breeze as well as drastically speeding up your survey time when conducting a moisture map over a large area.
The display unit is set on hinges so that you can face it towards you when taking readings and fold it back into place when storing away. The Display unit takes 4 xAA batteries which are simple to swap out with its sliding back plate. This will give you around 80 hours of continual use. The display unit and sensor unit both incorporate micro USB ports on the side allowing for firmware upgrades to be easily installed if any are released in the future.
The sensor unit on the end of the unit is also set on a hinge which allows a good range of movement meaning you will be able to test just about every type of surface that you can encounter. The sensor unit requires 2x AA batteries which you can access by removing two small screws. I am really glad Protimeter have opted for the AA battery rather than the 9v square type battery found in some of their other meters, the AA battery is just so much more simple to swap out and replace. This will give you around 500 hours of continuous use meaning that you won’t need to change the batteries very often.
At the end of the sensor unit you will find a wear/abrasion plate which is removable by 4 small screws. Even though this package comes with a spare abrasion plate, I would always advise for you to place the meter on a surface rather than swipe it across a surface as this will protect the device and abrasion plate for longer.
To turn the meter on you simply press the power button on the sensor unit and then the same again for the display unit. They will both then automatically connect through Bluetooth. When turning off the display unit it automatically turns off the sensor as well.
The scale on the meter runs between 0 to 1000. The colour on the screen goes from green (0-175) to yellow (175-200) to red (200-999). The sensor can be calibrated before using the meter by going into the calibration setting and holding the meter in the air. This can help minimise anomalies caused by abrasion to the wear plate and other changes to the nearby environment.
I was able to test the Reachmaster in both a residential property and a commercial plant room. I found it worked really well in both examples. In the residential property there was a suspected leak under a bath, after testing the floor I found elevated readings close to the bath panel. I lifted the floor covering and removed the bath panel and I was able to get right in underneath the bath and take readings. This would have been rather awkward with a pin type meter.
The sensor unit can turn to the horizontal plane which made things so much easier for me to reach what would have previously been inaccessible areas. I found that you really need to place the sensor flat to the floor as any angle can change the reading. I also found this is where the pause or hold feature was really useful, after taking a reading under the bath I was able to pause the reading and stand up and take my notes with the reading remaining on the display screen.
Within the same residential property, I tested the floor, ceiling and tried to test at skirting level. The floor and ceilings were absolutely fine but the meter struggled slightly with skirting level measurements due to its range of movement. The way to get around this is by either crouching slightly or facing away from the wall and holding the meter the other way. So, for me it might be just as easy to pull out the pinned meter if you need to test skirtings or low-level wall measurements.
For the commercial plant room there were some elevated readings where there had been a leak from a boiler overflow. I was able to make my way around the room very quickly and this is really where the Reachmaster Pro really shined.
This is also where I was able to make full use of the reference mode on the meter. Reference mode allows you to store a ‘dry standard reading’ of a material which you can then test against different areas of the same material. So, I was able to check an area of flooring that I knew to be dry and then contrast it against other areas in the plant room. Once in reference mode you will see two readings on the display. The first reading is the actual (or current) reading and the lower reading is the number above or below the reference dry standard that you originally take.
Another feature of this device is the device sensitivity option. The device allows you to use the minus and plus buttons give you the ability to alter the sensitivity. To access this feature, you simply hold either of these buttons for two seconds then push the button to increase or decrease the sensitivity. There is a scale from -5 to +5 in sensitivity.
I believe that whilst in theory this is a useful feature, I think in reality it will not be a regularly used feature of the device. The sensitivity feature does not increase the strength or depth of the signal but instead simply alters the scale which can be useful when taking readings on the very high or low end of the scale. So, if for example you have an area of saturated flooring that is giving you a reading of 999 you could lower the sensitivity which could allow you to zero in on where the moisture is coming from.
During my testing I was never faced with an example of the meter reaching the maximum value and as the meter takes an average read across the 120mm depth I think it would be a rare occurrence for you to see 999. If a surveyor relies solely on this device and increases the sensitivity thinking that this will allow for a more accurate reading on a floor with multiple layers this will lead to a misdiagnosis of damp where the floor is actually dry.
The Science (in layman’s terms)
I am hoping that I do not butcher the science too much but I will try and lay it out in the simplest terms that I can in as far as I understand it. I think this is important as I think this will explain the limitations of this device whilst also explaining why this device is not going to be a replacement for the likes of your Surveymaster or MMS2, and rather a compliment to it.
Non-invasive meters or capacitance meters typically use a dielectric moisture measurement method which uses radio frequency to measure the dielectric properties of a given material. A dielectric material is an electrical insulator that can be polarised by an applied electric field. The dielectric constant (or relative permittivity) determines how well a material can store energy when in contact with an electric field. Water has a higher dielectric constant than most building materials so the meter can calculate the dielectric constant and if it is high it will give you a high reading. The more water in a material the higher the dielectric constant and the higher the reading.
The downside is that metals have an infinite dielectric constant, what this means is that if you place a non-invasive meter against a bit of metal it will show you a high reading. The reason I have taken the time to explain this is because if you understand the limitations to any device you can then limit the amount of chance that you will misdiagnose a moisture related defect. The limitations between this type of measurement and the resistance meters are similar but different which is why ultimately you will want to use a range of tools when diagnosing damp in buildings.
The depth of measurement is an important aspect to consider as well. The Surveymaster for example reads to a depth of 19mm and the Reachmaster Pro reads to a depth of 120mm depending on the materials being tested. A depth of 70mm can be acheived in a multi-layered material, 170mm for Brick and 120mm for gypsum. A dense single material will see the best results in terms of how deep the meter will be able to read.
Let’s say you have a solid wall with suspected external penetrating damp, the Reachmaster with its deeper penetration may prove more useful in this example. I would also imagine it would also be very useful on testing large areas of EPDM flat roofing where sourcing a leak can often be difficult and time consuming.
However, if you want to test a cement screed that has underlying reinforced concrete you may fair off better with the shallower penetration. It is also worth noting that the Protimeter range takes an average reading across the depth of measurement rather than giving you the highest reading it encounters which is a good thing when it comes to encountering anomalies.
I was very impressed with this meter overall. I think if you are a roofing contractor or a surveyor who carries out inspections of flat roofs this will be the next must have tool.
For residential surveyors I would not look at the Reachmaster as a device to replace your existing kit, it acts as a compliment to the functionality found on the likes of the Surveymaster. It allows you to zip round a property and easily access areas which would have previously only been accessible by ladder for high areas or by kneeling down for low areas.
It allows you to take readings of awkward spaces like under baths or under kitchen units after the kick plates have been removed which would have been a very difficult task with a conventional meter.
And finally, it gives you that extra depth of reading which will assist you in a wider variety of dampness cases opening up more possibilities to investigate deeper into a substrate non-invasively.